The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying and What We Can Learn from Them


What do people mostly regret on their deathbed?

I’ve been thinking about what I would regret. Today I invite you to take a look at the most common regrets below and reflect on how they impact you.

What do people regret most?

A nurse who spent many years in palliative care working with patients for the last few weeks of their lives recorded the most common five regrets people had. Here they are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Don’t you agree that when people near the end, the fog lifts and they see with clarity what’s important?

No life goes to waste. We can learn from each other and from the wisdom of our fellow humans who left this world before us.

What can we learn from the list of regrets?

As you can see from the above list, there is no mention of home maintenance or crazy adventures—no sky diving or wild nights. These are basic truths: to live authentically and freely, to be happy and content and to be connected to the people who are important to us.

From my experience I can tell you that the things that matter the most to us can be counted on one hand (or two max). Looking at the list above, I found three main points that can make a big difference for the rest of our lives.

1. Living truthfully

This means that we live by our rules and do our thing. We don’t act out of guilt, fear of being different or to prove a point. To be truthful is to accept who we are and do what works for us—regardless of societal expectations and pressures.

This is probably one of the hardest things to do on the face of this planet. I still struggle with self acceptance. And as a result, I find myself doing things to comply with outside expectations or not expressing how I feel.

It takes courage and a whole lot of awareness to follow one’s truth.

Who you are + aligned action = your truth

Who you are is the sum of everything that is uniquely you—what you like/dislike, your gifts and talents, your interests and what you value most.

When we’re true to ourselves, we can’t help but act in a way that reflects genuinely who we are. In this case we pursue our passions and do work that matters to us. We love what we do and in the process contribute to society in the most authentic and meaningful way.

2. Genuine connections

This means focusing on the relationships that nourish our hearts and souls. Again, I think a handful (or two) of meaningful connections is all we need.

The type of connection is different for each person. It can be people from one’s childhood, or from recent encounters and experiences.

Meaningful relationships are the ones that endure and last beyond dysfunction and human frailty. They serve a purpose in our lives. They add beauty (maybe pain sometimes) but most definitely, they help us grow.

Relationships need to be regularly tended to and occasionally mended in order to flourish.

This is where we fall short most of the times. The best practice is to make it a priority to stay in touch and to deal with issues as they arise. It takes sincere desire and effort to keep relationships alive, especially in these fast paced days.

3. Happiness (contentment) by choice

Another tough one. The first step to a contented life is an authentic way of living, not worrying about what others think.

Then comes the feedback/reaction loop. We’re programmed to react to outside influences. It’s very hard to choose to be content when faced with conflict and challenges. But we can do it, because we always have a choice.

We don’t have to get angry, we choose to. We can laugh instead of fuming with anger.

We don’t have to react, we choose to. We can choose not to do anything when we perceive negativity coming our way.

To be happy is to live truthfully. To choose to be happy is to internally focus on the gifts of life and being.

How do we choose to be happy?

We just do. Make a choice, moment by moment, experience by experience, thought by thought to be okay with who we are and what we’re doing. This means we shift into a high gear of awareness before the automatic ego driven reactions kick in. It takes strength and a lot of practice.

I am not there yet. I have a lot of residual programming that takes me to negativity before I think about it. What I found most helpful is to take notice.

The moment I wake up for example I feel tired and want to just hide under the sheets. Then I ask myself a simple question: what are you dreading? I then follow with: what are you looking forward to? The second answer usually shows me that I have more things to look forward to than dread, which boosts my mood.

Any activity that can help us center our thoughts and emotions will allow for more contentment and less misery. Consider:

  • Meditating with a smile on your face
  • Free writing to take out any negativity
  • Relaxing activities like stretching/yoga, taking a bath or just a few deep breaths

Choose to be happy, and practice to be happy and you will be happy.

It seems that the most important things that we regret are really simple but not easy … but not impossible either.

So dear friends please take the time to think about what you would regret. It’s not too late to start now and make the best out of the rest of your life.

Stay truthful. Be happy.

PS Today was supposed to be the day I promised to release a book. It didn’t happen. I’m way behind—no excuses. I underestimated the time and effort required and the tyranny of resistance. For that I’m truly sorry. I will share what I learned from this experience with you. And I’m going to do my best to release the book soon. Thank you for being here … I love you!